Change Your Focus to Cope with Fear
Fear is inevitable, you can’t escape it. Fear is healthy, it keeps us from walking into dark and unfamiliar places and straight into danger. A little fear is good, it gets the blood circulating and the heart pumping. Even a lot of fear can be good if it helps us to run faster when a vicious beast is chasing us.
But that fear that disables us, that keeps us from speaking up or trying something new or enjoying the moment? That’s fear that is focused on ourselves and our own (perceived) weaknesses.
Fear that makes us punch someone whose nose needs punching? Healthy.
Fear that keeps us home and stops us from meeting new people or experiencing new places and activities? Unhealthy.
I read from the second maxim, “don’t prepare,” in Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up this morning:
“Performance anxiety comes from excessive self-focus.”
Holy cow, pretty dang simple, eh?
“Changing your focus can provide relief. And even if the sweaty palms persist, your attention is where it is needed — on what you are doing. Thus, performance anxiety can be understood as a matter of self-absorption, of misplace attention, and the remedy lies in turning your attention to the act of doing whatever it is well. (Or, if doing it well seems a stretch at that moment, then do it adequately or even poorly, but do it.) Think about your purpose instead. Fear is not the problem; allowing your attention to be consumed by it is.”
I deal with fear every deadline. Once a week I am nearly immobilized by that fear … sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, and the rest. Isn’t this supposed to get easier with time?? Apparently not. And every week I turn in my column and fishing report I think to myself, “I just turned in a huge pile of complete CRAP.” And then the next day I read what I wrote, and then (after I point out every spelling or grammatical error to myself) I think, “Huh. That’s not so bad. What was I afraid of?”
This week, as another deadline approaches, I am attempting to put on that “cloak of confidence” that Patricia speaks about in her book. I have changed my focus from my performance and “Will they like me?” to “Am I serving my readers?” I hope that the answer will be “Yes.”
And in my spiritual walk, I seek to change my focus from “How am I doing, God?” to “I’m listening, what will you have me do?”